Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2013 Spring Field Survey at Steege Hill Nature Preserve

As we have done in the past, we held our semesterly field survey, on April 28th. We teamed up with the Finger Lakes Land Trust to do a survey of one of their properties, to see what kinds of herpetofauna they had as well as the relative abundance. This year we went to Steege Hill, located in Big Flats (near Corning). Steege Hill is known for having a variety of herps on it, including New Yorks only native lizard: the northern coal skink (Plestiodon antrhacinus anthracinus), as well as the infamous timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

Our group this year was very large, consisting of over 30 members (ranging from students, faculty, alumni, community members, and children). However, the big size made the survey even more thorough, where more rocks and logs were flipped over (and put back where they were found). As a result, we had found quite a few animals.

A shot of most of the group, gathering around at our first location to learn about ants...? (Find out more below)
Photo Courtesy of Brian Worthington

This huge mound is home to Allegheny mound ants (Formica exsectoides). Something to note, besides the size of the structure, these ants will also inject formic acid into woody plants around them to prevent plants from shading the mound.
Photo Courtesy of Sophie Liu

As happened in the past, our most abundant find were of redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus). It wasn't unheard
 of to find several of these aptly named salamanders under one rock or log.Photo Courtesy of Brian Worthington

This is also a redback salamander (P. cinereus), however it is going through a phase which we call the Leadback, due to the dominant dark pigmentation.
Photo Courtesy of Graham Montgomery

There were a ton of tiny tadpoles swimming about in ponds and vernal pools,
it is difficult to identify them, but speculation was that they may have been 
from wood frogs (Rana sylvatica)
Photo Courtesy of Sophie Liu    

A northern redbelly snake (Storeria o. occipitomaculata), demonstrating how it was given its common name. However, the bright underbelly was not very helpful in spotting these little guys crawling through the leaf litter.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Magnier

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis), the photo shows the forked tongues that all snakes have (as well as some lizards and amphisbaenians). They work by gathering particles, which are then analyzed, and the forking allows for the snake to get a relative direction of the scent to follow (if prey) or flee (if predator).
Photo Courtesy of Brian Magnier

Another eastern garter snake (T. s. sirtalis), very common snakes throughout the area (and the species is found throughout the United States). Although they are not likely to bite when picked up, they do have the ability to produce a potent (and not pleasant) musk.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Worthington

Mountain dusky salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus), another relatively common salamander of the area. This is a plethodontid salamander, as shown by the nasolabial groove (line from nostril to lip), which is one of their key features.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Magnier

This adorable salamandrid is a red eft (Notophthalmus viridescens), which is the terrestrial, juvenile phase of the Eastern red-spotted newt. These guys have bright coloration, termed aposematic, as a warning to indicate that they are toxic (and to note, all newts [family: Salamandridae] are toxic).
Photo Courtesy of Brian Magnier

This is the highly elusive spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), these salamanders spend the bulk of the year hidden away. The main exception to this is during the breeding season (see our previous post for more details).
Photo Courtesy of Brian Worthington

We took a quick stop in this area to search under some rocks, because we were told that this was a prime location for northern coal skinks (P. a. anthracinus).
Photo Courtesy of Sophie Liu

Our search for the northern coal skink (P. a. antracinus) was successful! Albeit, these feisty little lizards were quick to nip, and incredibly speedy which made them hard to find and catch. When young these lizards have a blue tail.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Worthington

This tiny herp is a ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus), which was a great find. 
And, as you can see, they are another of the appropriately named snakes.
Photo Courtesy of Betsy Darlington

An american toad (Anaxyrus americanus), and as with all true toads [Family: Bufonidae], they can produce poison through their paratoid glands (what most would call 'warts') when stressed.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Worthington

Correct, this is not a herp. Rather, it is a large North American millipede (Narceus americanus). Unlike most other millipedes, they do not secrete a cyanide substance, however the substance they release can temporarily discolor skin.
Photo Courtesy of Graham Montgomery

This time of year, we also see the emergence of flowers, 
like this round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana).
Photo Courtesy of Audrey Bowe

Our survey was great fun, we had seen a wonderful diversity of herps as well as other flora and fauna (although we did not encounter a timber rattlesnake). See below for the diversity and finalized counts of the herps we found.

Final species count:

Redback salamanders, Phethodon cinereus: 57
     [In leadback phase: 6]
Mountain dusky salamanders, Desmognathus ochrophaeus: 7
Redbelly snakes, Storeria o. occipitomaculata: 6
Garter snakes, Thamnophis s. sirtalis: 5
Coal skinks, Plestiodon anthracinus: 5
Red efts, Notophthalmus viridescens: 2
Spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum: 1
Spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer: 1
American toad, Anaxyrus americanus: 1
Ring-necked snake, Diadophis punctatus: 1

(Plus a bunch of Tadpoles and Eastern Red Spotted Newts [N. viridescens] in the water)

Post by Joey Chase

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